First field meeting of year

Devon Moth Group’s first field meeting of 2017 takes place on Saturday evening (20th May) at Blackberry Camp. Moth traps will be run from dusk onwards to find out which moth species live at this wooded Iron Age hill fort located between Honiton and Sidmouth. Group members and members of the public are equally welcome. Full details of this event and others arranged for this summer and autumn can be found on the Events page.

Moth trapping (Patrick Clement)

Moth trapping (Patrick Clement)

Field meetings for 2017

The programme of Devon Moth Group field meetings for 2017 has been published. Full details of the seven confirmed meetings can be found on the Events page.

The field meetings enable Group members to record moths in new locations and prime wildlife habitats across the county, from Blackberry Camp hill fort near Sidmouth to Dunsdon nature reserve near Bude and Wembury Point near Plymouth. This adds to our knowledge of moth distributions across the county and ultimately contributes to their conservation.

The events also provide fantastic opportunities for people new to moths and moth recording to see a wide variety of these amazing creatures in the company of friendly experts. Most of the events take place at night, but some are morning sessions viewing moths caught the night before.

Group of people gathered around a moth trap in the evening.

Members of Devon Moth Group during a moth trapping evening.

Moth Night 2015

This year’s Moth Night celebrations take place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week (10-12 September), coinciding with the annual autumn arrival of immigrant moths. Across Devon and the rest of the UK, moth-traps, wines ropes and bedding plants will be deployed by thousands of people keen to see the amazing variety of moths that visit our shores or live year-round in our gardens and countryside.

For some, the focus will be on rare immigrant moths, such as the Golden Twin-spot and Clifden Nonpareil, borne in from hotter parts of Europe and even Africa on warm winds. Immigrant moths will come to moth-traps, but can also be attracted using wine ropes or ‘sugar’ bait, which provide a cheap, simple alternative. And, if you are not lucky enough to spot a rare migrant, spectacular local moths, such as Red Underwing and Old Lady, are also fond of these baits.

The Convolvulus Hawk-moth, on the other hand, has a particular penchant for Nicotiana flowers. Ahead of Moth Night 2015, some moth recorders have stocked their flower beds with Nicotiana ‘Sensation Mixed’, hoping to tempt this mighty migrant to their patch. With its 12cm wingspan, the Convolvulus Hawk-moth is one of the largest moths seen in Britain, yet it is capable of pin-point precision flight as it hovers to drink nectar from the deep Nicotiana flowers using its amazingly long proboscis. There have been lots of Convolvulous Hawk-moth sightings in recent weeks across the South West and right up into Scotland.

Convolvulus Hawk-moth (Mark Parsons/Butterfly Conservation)

Convolvulus Hawk-moth (Mark Parsons/Butterfly Conservation)

Aside from immigrants, there are many stunning autumn moths to admire at Moth Night public events or to search for yourself. Some are beautifully coloured with yellows, oranges and pinks to blend in with autumn leaves. Whatever you find, please log all your Moth Night sightings so that your records can increase our knowledge, inform moth conservation and be shared with County Recorders.

Please also keep your eyes peeled for moths marked with a dab of coloured paint on the wing. These are part of a Moth Night experiment to learn more about how far moths travel. In the days leading up to this year’s event, moths will be marked harmlessly at designated locations, in the hope that some will be caught by recorders taking part in Moth Night. If you find a marked moth, please photograph it and contact the Moth Night website or phone 01326 290287.

Of course you don’t have to do any of these things! Moth Night is what you choose to make it; a perfect excuse to go out and record moths somewhere new, perhaps filling a gap for the forthcoming national moth atlas, or organise an event to introduce people to moths for the first time. Devon Moth Group has two official Moth Night events, both at south coast locations where the chance of seeing exciting migrants is greatest, so why not come along (details of Devon events).

Moth Night is organised by Atropos and Butterfly Conservation, in association with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and an array of prizes are awarded for particularly unusual sightings. Further information about how to take part, public events, bait recipes and more can be found at on the Moth Night website.

Looking for Larvae

Captivated by caterpillars? Love larvae? Then our next indoor meeting is the place for you, as Barry Henwood (Devon County Moth Recorders) will give a talk entitled “Looking for Larvae”. This is the last indoor meeting of our winter programme and takes place on Thursday 26th March at the Kenn Centre, Kennford (www.kenncentre.co.uk) 19.30 for 20.00 start. All welcome.

Puss Moth larva (JohnBebbington)

Puss Moth larva (John Bebbington)

Indoor meetings get off to a shining start

Although moths fly throughout the year, opportunities for fieldwork are inevitably more limited in the winter. Therefore, Devon Moth Group organises a series of indoor meetings for members and guests.

Our first meeting of the winter, about how butterflies and moths use light to create colour on their wings, was extremely illuminating! (sorry about the pun!). Professor Pete Vukusic, an eminent physicist from Exeter University, gave us a fascinating micro-scopic tour of Lepidoptera wings explaining how the incredibly complex, minute structures on the surface of scales serve to create the appearance of colour without the use of any coloured pigments. It was a brilliant and accessible talk by a leading researcher in this field. The Prof will also go down in Devon Moth Group history for bringing more equipment to one of our indoor talks than anyone else ever!

Prof Peter Vukusic

Prof Peter Vukusic

The next indoor events is our Christmas Dinner, followed at the end of January by our AGM and what promises to be an amazing talk by artist, film-maker, naturalist, broadcaster & photographer John Walter.

See our Events page for more details

Moths out in force for Parke event

The Devon Moth Night event at the National Trust’s Parke Estate in Bovey Tracey on Friday 21 June was blessed with reasonable weather and a bumper crop of moths.

So far, 2013 has been characterised by pretty poor night-time conditions and moth populations seem to be at a very low ebb, perhaps due to the washout weather of 2012. Hopes were not very high, therefore, as a dozen of us met Fred Hutt, the National Trust Ranger for Parke, for our second field event of the season.

However, we needn’t have worried. Traps were set in a sheltered woodland on a hillside and almost at once the moths started to arrive. Roy McCormick, leading the event, was kept busy as new species were rapidly added to the list. Those fairly new to moth recording were thrilled to see lots of colourful species, including Lime (image below), Poplar and Elephant Hawk-moths, Buff-tip, Green Arches, Lobster Moth and other ‘crowd pleasers’. The more experienced members weren’t missing out either, with Ruddy Carpet, Beautiful Carpet, Poplar grey and the spectacular micro-moth Schiffermuellerina grandis.

Lime Hawk-moth (Dave Green)

Lime Hawk-moth (Dave Green)

In all 89 species were recorded in a few hours before the rain really set in and we packed up for the night.

The full species list for the event is here (in pdf format) Parke NT Ledge Wood 21 6 2013

Are there tigers and elephants in your garden?

Climate change hasn’t brought tropical animals to our gardens just yet, but big surprises lurk out there in the darkness. Spectacular Garden Tigers, bright pink Elephant Hawk-moths, and intercontinental Humming-bird Hawk-moths provide a touch of the exotic to our garden wildlife.

They might be unseen, but there are lots of moths out there in our gardens, whether you live in the middle of a town or in the heart of the Devon countryside. Hundreds of species can be seen in a single year just in your garden, compared with just a handful or two of butterfly species and a few dozen birds. So moths make up a dazzling diversity of wildlife right on your doorstep.

Find out more about the marvellous moths that live in our Devon gardens come along, this Thursday (28th March) to a free talk by Barry Henwood, County Moth Recorder. See here for details

Garden Tiger (Chris Manley)

Garden Tiger (Chris Manley)

Gathering in the moth records

One of the main activites of Devon Moth Group is recording where different moth species occur within the county. This then improves our knowledge and provides the foundation for conservation of rare or threatened species. Over the years, we’ve amassed an amazing database with over 500,000 records (sightings) of moths.

Despite the poor weather in 2012, recording by members and visitors continued and an impressive total of 35,279 records were submitted by just under 100 recorders to Barry Henwood, the County Moth Recorder. These have now been checked and added to the database. Many thanks to everyone who contributed records to this fantastic total – especially in such a wet year! If you have not yet passed on your Devon moth sightings for 2012, please do so. They will be added to the database and put to use to help study and conserve moths in the county.

The records already received have been analysed and will appear shortly in our Annual Report for 2012. Here’s a sneak preview of the cover of this year’s report. If you are a member, you’ll receive your copy in the post early in April. Even better, come along to our next indoor meeting (the last of the season) on Thursday 28th March in Kennford, nr Exeter, to get your copy early and to hear an excellent talk on Garden Moths by Barry Henwood.

DMG Annual Report 2012 cover_1

Dealing with difficult moths

Many larger moths are easy to identify, some are tricky and a few are just plain difficult. At the beginning of the month, experts from Devon Moth Group held a training workshop to teach advanced identification skills to fellow enthusiasts.

Led by County Moth Recorder, Dr Barry Henwood, and micro-moth experts Bob Heckford and Stella Beavan and kindly hosted by Devon Wildlife Trust, the event was a great success.

Ten moth recorders learnt how to use microscopes to examine minute details of the moths’ anatomy in order to determine species’ identification. Such techniques require a lot of practise so the workshop is just the starting point for the attendees.

Being able to correctly and accurately identify species is the cornerstone of efforts to understand the changing distribution of moths in Devon and conserve those species that are at risk.

Moth identification workshop (Barry Henwood)